by Brett Parker
Step Brothers, the new comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, is a film that can be called many things: vulgar, hostile, gross, juvenile, insane. I like to refer to it as a scary cautionary tale. Sure, on the surface it appears to be just another reckless and goofy comedy from Ferrell & Co. Yet if you dig deep into the film’s content, you can actually find unsettling predictions for the future of the YouTube generation. If you were to observe today’s average family and the behavioral patterns of it’s teenage offspring, you’ll realize that middle-aged men still living at home-with parents who don’t seem troubled by this-may not be as far-fetched as you think.
The film opens with a doctor named Robert Dobach (Richard Jenkins) hooking up with a woman named Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen) at a work convention. As they have a passionate fling, they both discover that they have one unique thing in common: they both have sons in their 40s who still live at home! Nancy’s son, Brennan (Will Ferrell), just got fired from PetSmart and spends his days parked in front of the TV with nachos. Robert’s son, Dale (John C. Reilly), plays video games all day and occasionally composes songs on his drum set. Robert and Nancy soon fall in love and decide to get married. This forces Brennan and Dale to now live under the same roof. This proves to be a dangerous move, considering how these men-children both have the maturity level of a 13-year-old. Like bickering adolescents, they fight, they hurl schoolyard insults, they set ground rules (Dale: “Don’t ever touch my drum set! DON’T TOUCH IT!”), and they even hold an elaborate death match on their front lawn.
Dale and Brennan pretty much hate each other, until the one night Dale wins Brennan’s respect by punching his arrogant jerk of a younger brother, Derek (Adam Scott), right in the face. Brennan hates Derek even more than Dale, so he appreciates this violent gesture. Pretty soon, the deranged duo starts bonding. They watch Steven Segal movies, they break things in the garage, and they unsuccessfully try to turn their beds into makeshift bunk-beds. Pretty soon, Robert gets fed up with the pair’s childish behavior and demands that they find jobs before they are kicked out of the house. This proves to be a difficult task, for Dale and Brennan have zero clue how to act like grown-ups. This is made clear when they wear tuxedos to interview for a janitorial position and end up telling the interviewer to shut her mouth.
So what we have here are two overgrown brats, lacking maturity, character, and manners, who live with parents that refuse to face their problems and continue showering them with money and encouragement. I’d be lying if I said this concept sounded off-the-rails and unrealistic. In today’s America, it seems like the sacred traditions of family life are almost extinct. It’s almost become commonplace for kids to shout, swear, and wine at their parents, all while shamelessly spending their money. The scariest part is how passive-aggressive today’s parents are towards this behavior. They don’t even attempt to teach their kids proper manners and instead keep on rewarding them for nothing. Step Brothers is like a grotesque vision of what teenagers of this generation could one day become, and it isn’t pretty. If a kid is clueless about kindness, respect, and family values, then what’s to stop them from becoming a live-at-home slob like Dale and Brennan? While most people will look at these two as bizarre comic caricatures, I unfortunately know several people who could one day become such disturbing adults.
I know I’m making Step Brothers sound like a suburban meditation in the league of The Graduate and I can assure you it’s the furthest thing from it! It’s just that this deeper angle is the best way I could enjoy the film. At face value, Step Brothers is no better or no worse than your typical Will Ferrell flick. It’s one of those mediocre comedies where every once in a while a giant laugh will come out of left field and surprise you. While Ferrell’s films are strangely enjoyable, he doesn’t pull consistently great laughs from an audience the way Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn does. He does provide a lot of awkward smiles though. I never thought Chewbacca masks, a Billy Joel cover band, a rap song about “boats and hoes,” and a lumberjack bit could save an entire film, but alas, Step Brothers is proof of that. And be warned, this is the most profane movie Will Ferrell has ever unleashed on an audience. The F-Bombs and sex jokes don’t let up for one second in this movie. I remember knocking Semi-Pro, Ferrell’s last film, for not being vulgar enough. Be careful what you wish for. You might get John C. Reilly liking vintage porn to “masturbating on a time machine!” Were you offended by what I just wrote? Then this definitely isn’t the movie for you!
I’ll tell you one thing that scares me: the future content of Will Ferrell’s movies. His movies keep getting crazier and crazier while the ticket sales keep growing higher and higher. The high grosses are just pushing Ferrell deeper into a comic abyss, one that could cause his movies to snap from reality and descend fully into madness. If today we’re seeing him rub his private parts on a drum set, what could tomorrow bring?